Special Olympics Torch Run arrives in Billings

2014-05-13T11:55:00Z 2014-05-16T15:10:15Z Special Olympics Torch Run arrives in BillingsBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

About $208.

That's the approximate value of each of the 2,400 miles run each year by law enforcement officials across the state every spring for the Special Olympics Montana Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Throughout the year, local, state and federal law officials raise about $500,000 for the LETR, all of which goes to support area Special Olympics programs throughout the year.

While the money is raised over a number of events, the efforts culminate with the statewide torch run, in which hundreds of officers carry the Flame of Hope across the state to light the ceremonial cauldron at the State Summer Games opening ceremonies, officially kicking off the annual competition.

On Tuesday, Laurel resident Jessica Hasler tagged along on the final leg of the torch run into Billings from Big Timber. She rode ina n RV as officers ran and biked the final 80 miles into town.

"You've got law enforcement that are running through communities in Montana, so they’re spreading awareness of Special Olympics and of the games," said Terri Sappington, Special Olympics Montana's LETR coordinator. "Along the way they’re also collecting funds, and they raised more than $500,000 last year just for Special Olympics, which is pretty amazing for a state this size."

This year's State Summer Games are in Billings with opening ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at MetraPark.

Hasler, 27, has been participating in Special Olympics Montana for 19 years and got involved with LETR eight years ago.

This spring, she was named to a three-year post as an LETR Athlete Ambassador, making her one of three athletes to sit on its executive committee.

"They're heroes," Hasler said of the law enforcement officials in the torch run. "They raise a lot of money for Special Olympics."

Hasler, who has Down syndrome, said that she's moved into a coaching role, in addition to competing in events such as track and field and bowling throughout the year. Being named as an LETR Athlete Ambassador gives her the chance to be a role model to other SOMT athletes with intellectual disabilities.

"It's going to be really fun," she said. "I get to work with them and their kids. (I like) just seeing the smiles on the kids' faces."

Sappington said it was Hasler's dedication and effort at Torch Run fundraisers that earned her a place on the LETR council.

"Jessica was selected by the executive committee based on her involvement with the Torch Run," she said. "She's always there, helping with the Polar Plunge or the Truck Convoy. Her leadership and her enthusiasm are why we wanted her to serve on this committee."

Sappington said the interaction ween law enforcement and athletes like Hasler adds an extra element to the games and is a vital element of their success.

"It's such a win-win for everybody," she said. "When an officer shows up, usually somebody comes away unhappy. But at Special Olympics, the athletes just adore the officers. It's an amazing relationship to see."

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